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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

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The quiet halls of the Historical Society.
The quiet halls of the Historical Society.
A rendition of Downtown Milwaukee in the 1840s.
A rendition of Downtown Milwaukee in the 1840s.

Why the Milwaukee County Historical Society rules

Until yesterday, it had been a while since I visited the Milwaukee County Historical Society. But now that I work Downtown again, I'm pledging to come back more frequently.

You should, too.

I stopped in to check out an exhibit called "Milwaukee in Miniature," which is a collection of the dioramas of Ferdinand Aumueller. These scale models depict Milwaukee landmarks as they were in the early 1900s, and the accompanying photos shows the buildings then and now. It's a fascinating look of the artist's work that he started in 1967. The free exhibit runs through January.

But there's so much more, too.

Once upon a time, I used to check out the society's photo gallery and records library. I found immigration papers for my great-grandparents and photos of the building where my grandparents met.

Yesterday, I spent some time looking at a whimsical painting of 1840s Milwaukee and learned a thing or two about Lake Emily, a four-foot deep lake that apparently still exists under NML headquarters. I had no idea.

I like the the Historical Society because it's free and quiet and usually empty and gives you a chance to investigate on your own. The miniature exhibit, for example, is neat because it puts buildings I've seen in photos into colorful, three-dimensional models. For me, anyway, it adds to my understanding of "old Milwaukee" when I can visualize these landmarks in this way.

In 2013, I'll make a point to visit more often. Hope to see you there.

You're not gonna miss that $5.
You're not gonna miss that $5.

Give something back before the end of the world

Think the world is ending on Friday? Then you're not going to miss the $5 you donate to your favorite charity on Thursday.

Joe Oakland, an old friend of mine, and his wife Candice came up with the Givepocalypse, a whimsical way to encourage people to give a little something extra this holiday season.

They're supporting the initiative entirely virally through Facebook, but I'll sum it up for you right here.

It's pretty easy, actually. On Dec. 20 (the Givepocalypse), give an extra $5 (or more, of course) to a charity you support and encourage your friends to do it, too.

Oakland hopes the informal campaign will raise $1,000 or more on Thursday, and your participation will certainly help.

Five dollars is pretty easy, my fellow Milwaukeeans. If the world does end, think of it as one your last good deed.

And if they world continues to fight another day, then you can sleep well on Friday knowing that you helped a charity in need.

The Jaguar XF's fit and finish is top notch.
The Jaguar XF's fit and finish is top notch.
The smooth yet agressive lines are a thing of beauty.
The smooth yet agressive lines are a thing of beauty.
In British Racing Green, naturally.
In British Racing Green, naturally.

Dream car, almost in reach: the 340 hp Jaguar XF 3.0

I lust after just two modern cars: the Aston Martin D89 and the Jaguar XK Coupe. However, I accept that both vehicles are well outside my budget, and even if I could afford them, I'm not sure I'd spend my money to own either one.

This week, I spent some time with a third car that tugged at my heart strings, the new Jaguar XF. What's really paining me is that owning (or leasing, anyway) this car is not a completely unrealistic goal.

Our friends at Fields Jaguar saw me drooling over the XF when I visited the dealership to do a blog on the new Range Rover a few weeks ago, so they knew they didn't have to do much persuading to see if I'd like to borrow one to evaluate for a little while. And they were smart about it, because not only did they lend me one Jaguar, they sent me two: first, the "base" XF, then, a few days later, the supercharged, 340 horsepower V6 version.

If the four-cylinder Jag is a beautiful, spritely drive, the supercharged one is a masterpiece. Plain and simple, the fastest car I've ever driven. Its acceleration and handling left me downright shaky. Zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds is fast. Insanely fast.

Which is to take nothing away from the base model. Frankly, I was more impressed with the lines and aggressive styling of this car than its ergonomics and performance, which felt only slightly better than my previous all-time favorite car I've owned, a 2008 BMW 328xi coupe. I mean, this was certainly a nicer car through and through, but with an MSRP of a $46,975, I wouldn't call its rear-wheel drive 240 horsepower, 2.0 liter i4 engine a tremendous bargain.

It certainly turned heads, though, and from the outside, it looked as beautiful as my new dream car, the Jaguar XF 3.0.

It's a little hard to describe this car, but I actually, literally, felt like James Bond while driving the British Racing Green four-door coupe. When you fire up the ignition – a red pulsating button that beats like a heart – the air vents automatically retract and a round shifter …

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The Kindle Fire, while cute and cheap, is no iPad.
The Kindle Fire, while cute and cheap, is no iPad.

The Apple advantage

Pretty much every computer I've ever owned has been a Mac (not counting a Commodore 64, one Mac clone and a netbook I hacked to run the Mac OS). But when it comes to mobile devices, I've had many before I first purchased the iPhone 3G. I had a pair of Blackberries and a number of basic cell phones, too. When it comes to tablets, though, I've only owned two iPads: the original and the iPad that came out in April.

That is, until last week, when I picked up the dirt-cheap Kindle Fire for $129 via Amazon.com's Cyber Monday sale.

I figured, for that price, the tiny tablet would be a good iPad backup, and certainly more apt to withstand any drops by the clumsy fingers of a kindergartener. Plus, I was intrigued to see what this Android operating system was all about.

A week later I can report that the Kindle Fire, which costs one-third of an iPad Mini and one-quarter of a full-sized iPad, is no iPad.

It's not even close.

I'm not complaining, because I didn't have especially high expectations for this little tablet. It's thick, heavy and devoid of physical buttons like volume or "home." The screen resolution is poor by today's standards. The speakers are tinny. Web pages are slow and sluggish, and the Fire doesn't render HTML 5 fonts. The modified Android OS is clunky and unintuitive.

Yet, the tablet is useful – once you adjust your expectations.

Most of the apps I use on my iPad and iPhone are actually available for the Kindle, and if they're not, reasonable facsimiles are. So, in a sense, the Fire is a tremendous bargain for someone who wants an iPad but doesn't want to spend $500 (or $350).

But it's not an iPad.

I rarely take for granted the details Apple has baked into its hardware, how iOS has become an extension of the creative process. But after seeing, hands-on, the invention that infuriated the late Steve Jobs because it was such a blatant rip-off, I understand what he meant. The Kindle Fire and the Android language it runs, lack that certain something t…

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